Armidale Central Council

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The slippery slope between our shortage of affordable housing and homelessness is a short, steep one. It doesn't take much of a shove to send people sliding into the ranks of our 105,000-plus homeless Australians.

Women and girls make up 59 per cent of people turning to homelessness services. And the fastest growing cohort experiencing homelessness is women over 55.

These women have most likely never been homeless before and come from all walks of life — they could be your co-worker, your sister or your grandmother.

Women like Maree, who after decades of enduring domestic violence left the only home she had known with just the clothes on her back. No Rental history made her efforts to find a property near on impossible. She iS still surfing from couch to couch, and turns to emergency accommodation when her favours have run out.

Older women face many things that increase their risk of homelessness — job loss, illness or injury, rent increases, relationship breakdown, widowhood or domestic violence.

In 2010 we commissioned a report on why the number of homeless older women was growing. It found the needs of older women would swamp all existing policies and radical new ideas were required. So far, no action has been taken and the crisis festers.

Recently, Homelessness NSW, together with us and other groups, issued A Plan for Change — a range of solutions to ensure older women can live in housing that is safe, secure and affordable. We are calling on the government to tackle older women's homelessness through access to social and affordable housing and private rental assistance.

The state government has shown strong commitment through the $1.1 billion Social and Affordable Housing Fund. We now urge it to also look at developing "mixed equity" models.

This would offer older women who have some savings the opportunity to buy part of a property and pay a reduced rental. It requires a partnership with the private and finance sectors plus with superannuation funds.

The society, of course, continues to provide emergency accommodation, like Our Lady of the Way refuge in Western Sydney, which caters for women 50 years and over experiencing domestic or family violence.

The evidence is clear that prevention and early intervention is crucial. If we support our clients to learn basic financial and living skills, they are better placed to maintain their tenancies. And other benefits flow on — stress reduction, physical and mental health and stronger family and community relationships.

As long as the demand for affordable housing continues to outpace supply, the problems facing older women and all those at risk of or experiencing homelessness will never be resolved.

As we launch the Vinnies CEO Sleepout today, the calls must not only be heard but put into action.

– Dianne Lucas is the acting CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.

The above originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph, Sydney – 7 April 2016.

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